April 19, 2017

Why Driving in the Slow Lane does more than Just Save Gas.

I recently had an unplanned Earth Day experience that ended up teaching me much more than I bargained for.

“We need to take my office chair to San Diego with us, honey,” I told my husband a couple of days before we started packing.

“I understand,” he said patiently. “But it won’t fit in the back of the Subaru.”

“Then we’re just going to have to strap it to the top of the car.”

“Oh, you mean like the Beverly Hillbillies?”

“Yes. Exactly like the Beverly Hillbillies.”

And that’s what we did. Or that’s what he did. He covered my office chair in thick moving blankets, wrapped it all around with duct tape, and, the night before we left, strapped it to the roof rack on top of the car.

The next morning, we drove from Tucson, Arizona, to San Diego, California, at 65 miles per hour so the chair wouldn’t blow off.

We looked ridiculous, but it worked—and driving 65 mph gave us more than we’d bargained for.

First of all, we saved a lot of gas by driving slower.

According to U.S. News & World Report, “Most American cars operate at peak efficiency—generating the most forward momentum with the least amount of fuel—between 50 and 60 miles per hour. The government establishes the city and highway mpg ratings for cars by operating them within certain speeds for a short period of time. Automakers want to get the highest mpg ratings possible, so they engineer their cars to be most efficient at the speeds at which the government tests them.”

Secondly, because we drove in the slow lane the entire way, we saved even more gas by setting the car on cruise control and leaving it there.

The same report states that “[flooring] the gas floods the cylinders with precious fuel, and burns up a lot more of it than needed. Mileage experts recommend using cruise control as much as possible [to save gas].”

Thirdly, because we didn’t pass any vehicles, we hit the brake and accelerated less, both of which are ways to save on gas.

Obviously, we noticed we didn’t spend as much money on gas during the trip.

All these earth-friendly and wallet-friendly results weren’t the only benefits, however. The slower driving pace changed the trip for us in other ways as well:

We were able to actually “see” the scenery outside the window, rather than just driving by it.

There were small towns and off-ramps leading to mysterious destinations that—in the 40-plus years of driving this same route at 75-80 mph—I hadn’t noticed before.

Driving in the right-hand lane for the entire trip was more relaxing for the driver.

“Just get in the slow lane and don’t do anything fancy,” my husband told me when I got behind the wheel. “You’ll find out it’s a much more pleasant way to drive.”

He was right.

Because I wasn’t going to be passing anybody, I was relieved of the hyper-alertness that comes with having to constantly watch traffic to figure out when to pass.

We also let go of the pressure of having to arrive at our destination within a certain period of time.

“We’ll get there when we get there” became our motto, and we were surprised to find that even at 10-15 mph slower, a trip that usually takes about eight hours took only a half hour longer.

We both noticed that when we arrived, we weren’t as road weary as usual.

The tension and aggression that is required by faster speeds takes its toll, and we hadn’t realized just how much.

While all of that was good, it got better.

I began to think about just how much of my life I went through at “top speed” when I didn’t really have to.

What if I cooked at 65 mph instead of at 80 mph? 

Do I really need to get my laundry done in the fast lane? 

I remember a friend once told me that he felt like he was in so much of a hurry all the time that he even hurried into bed at night.

My slow drive to San Diego taught me that hurrying through life at “top speed” cost me a lot more in personal fuel than I wanted to spend. It also wasted a lot of energy and didn’t get the job done all that much faster.

In the end, I was really glad we put that big, ungainly office chair on top of the car.

I learned a lot from doing it.


Author: Carmelene Siani
Image: averie woodard/Unsplash
Editor: Nicole Cameron


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